Marks of a Local Church
J. H. Hughes, Nutley
THE PATTERN OF THE LOCAL CHURCH is set before us by the Spirit in this epistle, and there are four of its characteristics in these verses. It is well to emphasize the importance of the local gathering, for in this fellowship we spend a great part of our lives and service.
First then is the mark of -
The apostle sent this letter to a company of people he knew well, in the city of Corinth, and he linked them with similar companies in other places. He knew who they were, and where they were. They could not be mistaken, for they were different from all other people in that they were 'sanctified in Christ Jesus' - set apart for Him. The second mark of an assembly revealed here is -
The Gospel draws all kinds of people together in the unity of the Spirit. One of the wonders of a healthy assembly is that people of different temperaments, social position, education or colour can meet together with the common bond of love for the Saviour. There is no material gain: oftentimes it means loss in many ways, but all work together for the good of the assembly and its witness, and for this purpose each member is gifted by the Spirit. 'Ye come behind in no gift', and each can do his part in harmony with the rest. God's works are always harmonious, as we see in nature where all the colours blend; it is man who mars it with his monstrosities of concrete and steel. Listen to the dawn chorus of birds on a spring morning, when each little songster sings his own version, but the whole blends in perfect harmony to the delight of the listener. Or watch a large orchestra when each player plays his own instrument, and the greater the variety the better the effect, but each one has his eye on the conductor controlling all. One plays a large instrument; another a small one, and some are more prominent than others, but none does more or less than the score requires. So it is in the assembly where each one in fellowship with others uses the gift or gifts the Spirit has given him, being answerable to the Lord Himself who controls all. The third mark is that of-
The Corinthians had an objective; a goal; a destination. It was the coming again of the Lord Jesus. They were waiting for the Saviour, and Paul by the Spirit unfolds in the matchless passage in chapter 15 what this would mean for them. Like Israel passing through the wilderness on their way to Canaan, the saints are on their way to the Glory Land. We are pilgrims and strangers: pilgrims because we know where our journey will end, and strangers because we no longer belong to the world which crucified our Saviour. Finally, we see the mark of -
An assembly consists of those who have been 'called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord'. 'Fellowship' is a sharing, and He shares with us all that He has. We have nothing of our own. Indeed we are nothing, Gal. 6. 3, and Paul uses such words as 'foolish', 'weak', 'base' and 'despised' in w. 27-28 of this chapter. This serves to emphasize by contrast the wonder and dignity of the fellowship into which we are called. It is the fellowship of His Son. 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son'. 'In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power', Col. 2. 9-10.
'In Him most perfectly expressed, the Father's glories
shine, Of the full deity possessed, eternally divine.' He was 'declared to be the Son of God ... by the resurrection from the dead', Rom. 1. 4. The Lamb is on the throne, and the believer, with Thomas, confesses Him 'my Lord and my God'. Yet He is 'Jesus', the Man in the glory. He is also Christ, the Anointed One, for He was sent to save us from our sins. 'The Father sent the Son to be die Saviour of die world', 1 John 4. 14. He is not only our Lord, He is Lord of all. How-few have bowed at those pierced feet! Have we confessed Him as Lord? Is He really Lord of our lives? For He is either Lord of all or not Lord at all.